FCC Kicks Off Broadband Roadshow

The Federal Communications Commission today held the first in a series of public meetings aiming to guide the agency’s work in developing a plan to deliver high-speed Internet access to all Americans.

Throughout August and September, the FCC plans to hold about 20 of these so-called staff workshops to flesh out various aspects of the national broadband strategy, which it is due to deliver to Congress in February.

This morning’s session, which focused on open government and citizen engagement through the Internet, was in many ways a sales pitch extolling the virtues of high-speed connectivity and explaining why broadband matters.

“Broadband is the great infrastructure challenge of our generation,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said.

On hand were two leaders of the technology team of the Obama administration, which has sent a clear signal that it is committed to investing in the nation’s digital infrastructure, perhaps most visibly in backing the more than $7 billion for broadband projects allocated in the economic stimulus package.

Vivek Kundra, the nation’s first federal chief information officer, made the case for broadband as a path to citizen engagement, noting the multitude of Web sites the administration has launched to give folks outside the Beltway a window into what their government is doing.

“One of the big things that we’re focused on is to simplify access to government services,” Kundra said.

As an example, he cited the recently launched site that tracks federal spending on IT initiatives.

That Web site sports a dashboard that allows visitors to sort and display different data sets from the various federal agencies, complete with widgets that can be embedded into people’s blogs, Facebook profiles or Twitter pages.

Kundra was joined by Beth Noveck, the administration’s deputy CIO, who talked up some of the government’s other efforts to connect with the public through the Web, such as the Office of Management and Budget’s call for comments regarding federal agencies’ policy on using tracking cookies.

One of the areas where Kundra and his team are focusing is the wave of new applications and services that have transformed the consumer Web, innovations that “unfortunately haven’t been matched in the federal government,” he said.

That vision, at least in the talking points, sees a broadband-enabled nation engage with its government remotely in a form of digital democracy loosely patterned after the open source model that has built Web-wide success stories like Mozilla and Wikipedia.

“The federal government does not have a monopoly on the best ideas out there,” Kundra said.

In the spirit of online access to the goings on in the government, the FCC Webcast this morning’s meeting, and also set up shop on the virtual world Second Life. At the point of peak traffic, 15 people were following the meeting on that site.

After the FCC runs through its series of staff workshops on broadband, the agency is planning to develop a quantitative analysis of the nation’s digital infrastructure, identifying weak spots and eventually developing policy recommendations. By statute, the national broadband strategy is to be delivered to Congress by Feb. 17, 2010.

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